This Friday, the Rockford and Riceville football teams will battle in one of North Iowa's most crucial late season match-ups.
Rockford comes into the game with a 5-2 overall record and a two-game winning streak, fresh off a 38-20 victory over Tripoli last Friday. Riceville comes in with 4-3 record after the Wildcats beat North Iowa last week 59-14.
Going into Friday night's game, Rockford head coach Torian Wolf is excited to see how his team matches up against the Wildcats.
"We’re super pumped up," Wolf said. "Last week, we knew that playoffs kind of started at that point. We went into last week saying that that was the week playoffs really start. We feel like our district is the toughest district and that we're in the playoffs every week once district play starts."
Rockford made it all the way to the eight-man state championship game last year before falling to New London. This season, with two regular season losses, a new quarterback in Will Bushbaum and a new starting running back in Justice Jones, have change how Rockford does business, Wolf said.
"The speed comes from a different area, it’s not just the quarterback carrying the ball," Wolf said. "Justice Jones is having a phenomenal year carrying the ball. We like to throw it around a little more than we did last year. It just looks different on the offensive side."
Jones, Bushbaum and Gavin Reicks have received the vast majority of the touches this season. Jones leads the team with 664 yards on 78 attempts, while Bushbaum is close behind at 647 yards on 117 rushes.
"When we came into the season, we weren’t looking at him as much of a runner," Wolf said of Bushbaum. "We knew he would have a running game, but we didn’t think he was going to be a great runner. We thought he’d be a great passer, and it has kind of been the opposite at the start of the season. He was a lot better runner than we expected."
For Riceville, the Losee brothers are the two players that make the team's offense go.
"It's a big game for our program," Riceville head coach Stef Fair said. "We played a tight one with them last year. We know they lost a few guys, but they're returning most of their lineman, so we're going to have to be up for it to compete. We've had a good week of practice, and I think we will."
Lawson Losee leads the team in rushing with 960 yards, while Judge Losee has 221 yards through the air on 12 receptions. The Wildcats don't pass a whole lot, but when they do, it is effective.
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Senior quarterback Sully Fair has completed 54 percent of his passes, averaging 13.8 yards per attempt.
The Losees are also the team's top two tacklers, with Judge leading the way with 86.5 tackles, and Lawson at 57.5.
"In order for us to compete, we're looking for them to have big nights for us," Fair said.
Wolf has been preparing his defensive line to put pressure on Fair. In Wolf's words, his squad seems to match up very well with the Riceville attack.
"They’re a tough-nosed team," Wolf said. "They like to go double-tight (ends), and try to power it down your throat. We match up pretty well against that. We have some big boys up front that are very excited to be the staple of how we are going to stop them this week."
The defensive line has produced 22 sacks this season for Rockford, and Wolf is confident that they will be able to stop Riceville's run-heavy offensive attack.
"If we can get penetration up front, then we feel that we will have no problem stopping their offense," Wolf said. "They’re very predictable to us. We have them game-planned really well, its just about not letting them push us around."
After Janesville's loss last week to Northwood-Kensett, Rockford is back in control of its own destiny as it pushes toward the postseason.
"When we lost to Janesville, it kind of was up to them to lose some games, so we could possibly get second place in the district again," Wolf said. "With them losing to Northwood last week, it put the destiny back in our hands. If we win out, we feel that we have a chance to go into the playoffs with a really strong RPI."
The Warriors and Wildcats will face off in Rockford on Friday, at 7 p.m.